What Am I Committed To?

Sienna Chu, MHC

Commitment. This word can bring up a whole lot of feelings- fear oftentimes being one of them. And yet, as much as we fear commitment, we crave it. In our day-to-day we are in commitment with so many seemingly insignificant and also obviously important things-- like our relationships, jobs, pets, even our favorite coffee shops. According to Webster’s dictionary, commitment is defined as, “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” When what we are committed to has a benefitting cause, it is a wonderful thing, especially when we consider that what humans find most fulfilling often require commitment and time. Our relationships, for example, grow in depth and complexity when we continually invest time and energy into them. The same goes for our careers. There is something satisfying and necessary about commitment in order to achieve and obtain growth and fulfillment.

But what about when a commitment begins to feel more like being stuck or trapped. Webster also defines commitment as, “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.” Notice how one definition of commitment uses language that elevates or inspires (being dedicated), whereas the other uses language that focuses on what is lost (restricts action). It may seem obvious, that in order to gain the benefits of commitment, we need to sacrifice our freedom of choice. But it’s when this equation becomes imbalanced that we begin to shift from helpful to harmful. It’s important to take note that part of cultivating personal growth is not just nurturing what is good in our lives, but it is also walking away from the things in life that no longer serve us- like a toxic relationship, bad habit, or an addiction. For some things, the shift from healthy to harmful is clear and decisions that follow become obvious. For other areas in our lives, not so much.

So how can we know when we are inside a commitment that gives life, or one that takes away? And if we are in a commitment that takes away, how can we shift it to create benefit. 

Start here:

  • Ask yourself, “what am I committed to?” Take an honest look at where you energy and time has been going. In this fast-paced and highly competitive world, we mask obligations with a false sense of commitment. Perhaps you spend much of your time at work but are left feeling unfulfilled or are in a committed relationship that is dissatisfying. Sometimes we slip into believing that we spend most of our time in commitment with the things that matter to us most, but it isn’t until we see it on pen and paper in front of us, that we realize how much time is dedicated to other, less meaningful things. 

  • Examine what you gain from these commitments. So many of my clients remain inside commitments, forgetting why they originally committed to them in the first place. Our meaning and relationship to things change over time. It’s important to take stock and see if we are still benefiting from what we dedicate ourselves to, or if the meaning behind it has shifted. Now, this doesn’t mean the moment you feel you aren’t gaining personally from something that it’s bad, but perhaps it means the dynamic of the commitment needs to shift. Who benefits should be dynamic, something that dances back and forth. There will be times when your partner will get more from your relationship than you, just be sure it continues moving and doesn’t get stuck on one end. 

  • Check in with yourself. So many of us are numb to the impact of continued stress, and let’s be honest, we use the word “commitment” as a way to justify how much we pressure or “should” ourselves every day. When our commitments take away our energy without restoration, we become stuck in a state of energy depletion and high stress. Our bodies respond by releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can wreak havoc on our vital organs or normal functioning- especially when their levels remain high in the bloodstream over time. This often occurs outside of our awareness. So go to your doctor appointments, take a look at your diet and sleep habits, see where your body is asking for more TLC, and talk with a therapist who can help you explore these questions more deeply. 

  • Communicate. Once we develop awareness around what is straining us in our commitments, it’s important to follow through and communicate that with the people in our lives who it affects. So many of us are caught up in an internal dialogue, and are unaware as to what has been processed internally versus actually said allowed. Be intentional with your communication, and be sure to speak from a place that acknowledges your feelings. This might mean talking with coworkers or your boss about creating a healthier work/life balance. Or talking with your partner about what your needs are and how they can better meet them for you. Try not to assume that others know what your thinking or feeling. 

  • Practice gratitude. Sometimes it’s something as simple as actively giving thanks that we can shift our perspective and restore meaning and purpose to our commitments. 

Commitment is unavoidable when it comes to getting the most out of the things in life that are most important to us. We are beings wired for connection- to ourselves, others, a higher power, and a sense of purpose. In a world that gives rise to more and more distractions and promotes more inauthentic connection than authentic, the need for commitment to what’s important grows deeper. So, be intentional with your time and love. Start by asking yourself, “what am I committed to?”